Specialized Marketing: Status Psychology

By Christopher Zoukis

All of life is nothing more than an eternal quest for status,” says Tom Wolfe, the bestselling novelist.

Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest, maintains that affluent men market themselves to members of the opposite sex through “displays of status and resources.” Etcoff goes on to quote Ovid, who said almost the same thing 2000 years ago: “Girls praise a poem, but go for expensive presents.”

Status, according to Etcoff, who is one of the world’s leading psychologists, is psychological because it is based on comparison. One person has more status than another person because he has more money, or is better looking, has a more prestigious job, lives in a bigger house in a more desirable neighborhood, wears more stylish clothes, drives a more expensive car, has a prettier wife, and so on. The list is endless. All human beings participate in this comparison, this hunt for status.  Image courtesy statuskicks.com

Status may be psychological, but is often conferred by “things.” This means luxury products and services can confer status. Like everyone else, affluent people seek status. Which means understanding and targeting the psychological concept of status is an important part of marketing luxury brands to the affluent customer.

Phoenix Marketing (PM) asserts the idea of status is vital to luxury marketing. PM cites the iPhone G3 as an example, and holds it up as one of the best, recent examples of effective luxury marketing. Having said that, PM goes on to state that marketing luxury products is very specialized and must be approached carefully. Yet, according to PM, luxury marketing is the way to recession-proof a business. This is true because affluent customers do not base buying decisions on need, durability or utility. Rather, affluent customers make buying decisions based on style, glamour and quality, because they desire status and exclusivity.

PM comes right to the point. They state that luxury marketing is primarily about appealing to personal selfishness, self-indulgence, and status. According to PM the target customers for luxury marketing are Gen-Y, who are the twenty-somethings, Gen-X, who are the thirty somethings), and older affluent buyers. Luxury marketing to these groups is not affected by general economic factors because price is not the object. The object is status. Price indicates exclusivity and eclat. This is the reason customers spend $500 on the iPhones and $2000 per year to use it. It is not about the phone. It is about the status the phone provides. This status is so appealing that people stand in long lines to purchase it.

The specialized or tricky part of marketing luxury products to affluent customers, according to PM, is this: the targeted group, the rich people, is constantly changing. Marketing to rich people used to target so-called “old money,” which was defined as people who inherited wealth. They were primarily older, white males, who, in their seach for status, purchased luxury goods such as Paris fashions, furs, jewelry, land, and expansive mansions.  According to Paul Fussell, “old money” bought only two types of luxury cars, BMW or Jaguar.

In today’s world, rich people comprise movie stars, rock stars, hip-hop artists, profeesional athletes, and dot.com millionaires. Along with these “new rich,” there are “aspirational” buyers who desire luxury products but cannot really afford them. Aspirational buyers want to move up in status. The “new rich” want more status.

This means specialized marketing that appeals to the status psychology of the targeted group.